April 27, 2009

It’s not just an exciting service, it’s revolutionary, Lior Libman, one of the co-founders of the Twitrans service.Twitter is one of the hottest social messaging services on the planet these days, but the one remaining obstacle to it becoming a truly international phenomenon is language.

If you’re an English speaker, it’s nigh on impossible to communicate or read in another language unless you’re fluent in that language, or you use a professional translator.

Now an Israeli startup could change all that with a new service, called Twitrans, that can break the language barrier between America and billions of Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, and even Arabic speakers.

Developed by the company, One Hour Translation, Twitrans lets you write your message in English, send it to the company for professional translation, and then post it up on your Twitter page.

Twitter is rapidly becoming an important mode of communication. The free micro-blogging utility for the PC and cell phone allows users to keep the world informed of their doings in messages limited to 140 characters.

Translating on the run

Ideally you use the service while on the run, informing folks who follow your messages what you’re up to, and following others to see what they are doing.

In February, experts estimated that the number of unique monthly visitors to Twitter stood at roughly six million, while the number of monthly visits reached 55 million. It’s thought to be the third most used social network site on the net.

Many people use Twitter to solidify their on-line brand or reputation, so if you’re trying to establish a name among people in other countries, it makes sense to try and communicate with others in their native language.

Twitrans allows them to do just this, and to do so for free. Say you want to write a message in English – you send a “tweet” to the Twitrans service, saying you need a translation. Twitrans then forwards your message to one of its native translators (one of 8,000 translators it employs around the world). The message is then returned to you in the appropriate language, ready for posting on Twitter.

“It’s not just an exciting service, it’s revolutionary,” says Lior Libman, one of the co-founders of Rehovot-based Three Innovators, which sponsors One Hour Translation and Twitrans. “Besides breaking down communication barriers between people around the world, we’re giving part-time work to thousands of people in over 100 countries, and we have the only live translation service with so short a turnaround time.”

It was the time factor that got Libman and his partners, Oren Kaufman and Oren Yagev, into the translation business.

No quick alternatives

“We have a Hebrew language financial services blog that we wanted to have translated into other languages on an immediate basis, since financial news is so fluid,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “But we discovered that there was no way for bloggers like us to get quick translations done; all the commercial translation sites had a turnaround time of three days or so, and were very expensive.

“We decided to take matters into our own hands and establish One Hour Translations, which will translate text into other various languages quickly and reasonably,” he adds.

They got the idea for Twitrans after realizing that Twitter users have the same problem. “We don’t charge for Twitrans,” Libman says.

“Essentially, it’s a marketing tool for our extended translation service, so users can get an idea of the high quality and speed at which we work.”

According to Kaufman, Twitrans has more than met the entrepreneurs’ expectations, and business at One Hour Translation has grown markedly since they introduce Twitrans.

So far, Kaufman says, Twitrans has translated over 6,000 messages in little more than three months, with the most popular translate to/from languages being Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic.

Currently, translations can be done to/from about a dozen languages, and buoyed by its success so far, Kaufman says the partners plan to significantly increase the number of languages for which translations will be available, with the first new crop to include most of the Eastern European languages.

An unusual vehicle for a love affair

While the company does not keep track of the tweets sent out, Kaufman says there are lots of personal messages being sent out using the service. “We know of one English speaker with a Russian girlfriend who communicate on-line almost exclusively with Twitrans, because he doesn’t know Russian and she doesn’t have good English skills. It’s a true international love story.”

And while love conquers all, the potential for Twitrans is enormous in the political sphere, too. For example, messages on the Israeli consulate’s Twitter page could appear in not only English, but all sorts of other languages, making Israel’s case not just in the English-speaking world, but even among Arabic speakers.

Although Twitrans is free for users, the translators, of course, get paid, using mostly Paypal, where available. But Twitrans also operates in countries where Paypal doesn’t operate, like Iran, where Kaufman says they have users and translators. “There, we pay using other services, like Western Union,” he explains.

Regardless, he says, the company is proud to be able to supply steady work to translators around the world, helping them to make a little more money – without which they may have more trouble making ends meet.

And, Kaufman says, the company is also proud to have the only live Twitter translation service.

“There are automatic, machine-based translations out there, but as you can imagine, they’re really not very good,” he says.

And, he adds, the world – even the Arabic and Farsi speaking world – is happy to work with Twitrans, even though the company makes it clear that it’s based in Israel. “We’ve worked with thousands of people around the world and paid thousands of translators,” he says. “We’re happy to be doing our little bit to increasing understanding, and hopefully peace, among the citizens of the world.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director